A conversation with B.E.
BE and I met, lived and worked in a multiple recording studio complex which doubled as a party venue in the late nineties. We both played in bands and recorded and produced music. We used heroin and crack together. He is now clean and a qualified professional. This is our first proper conversation since those days.
Addict2016: Are you currently using?
BE: I smoke cigarettes and drink about five nights a week.
Addict2016: We used heroin, crack and other things together at the turn of the century. How would you describe the way you ‘fell’ into heroin use?
BE: Accidental. I got given a tiny bit to help me sit for twelve hours soldering a loom for a studio. Worked a treat! Then I lived in LA with someone I didn’t know was a regular user, and ended up sitting in car parks waiting for the man every morning. The front cover of Beck’s first album? We were there every day. Then, I lived in a place where drug use was rife and I think I ended up, due to general dissatisfaction with my music work, in a triumvirate of the heaviest users…you were one of them. Peter Perret from the Only Ones told me that nobody sets out to be a junkie – he was right, of course.
Addict2016: Indeed. There would be few addicts if it was a lifestyle choice. I too was dissatisfied with the music I was creating and had found no answer to the emptiness of the universe. However, there was a sordid glamour to it all and I was a bit in awe of you and G. We were taking cocktails of many different drugs but heroin made everything stop for a while for me.
BE: For me it made it continue. Crack, coke etc. notwithstanding, heroin kept me (generally!) awake but anaesthetised to the pain of dissatisfaction. I did glory to some extent in the extremity of it all – surrounded by what your average Daily Mail reader would have seen as capital offences – all day, every day.
Addict2016: The place we lived and worked in was full of beautiful, creative people, most of whom were using drugs. It was the music business so all was accepted and expected. It was only when I began using heroin and crack that my friends disapproved – friends with whom I used cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and alcohol. I could not see the difference. It became a philosophical debate about good and bad drugs. I believed that if you do something every day you are an addict or on your way to being one; the substance was irrelevant. I now believe they are very different and that the approach to the treatment of alcoholics and illegal drug users must be different. I felt that heroin and crack set the three of us apart. I enjoyed this.
BE: I remember coming to see you after I quit. At your flat, wherever it was, there was vomit round toilet bowl, black carbon smears everywhere, but no, you didn’t have any! It was really obvious Andy. You really didn’t want me there. I was clearly an intruder – stopping you getting on with your love affair.
Addict2016: Complete denial. Addicts all live in denial. That Hoxton flat was a very dark place. Most of my friends had turned away because I had stopped caring about anything. I was alone, except for G, with heroin. I hated myself and everything else.
BE: Me too. I remember one particular week when a sound engineer friend, HUGE coke user, invited me for lunch or dinner almost every day. He was concerned because he’d smelled heroin around where I lived. I suspect my band mates and other friends, all massive coke; cannabis and alcohol users, had elected him to play Dad. It just made me laugh, take the free food – I even made myself able to eat a lot, so if he thought I’d be cheap smack date I could shit on that idea and his/their good intentions! I never heard from him directly again after that week, though we met often and he was always coked. Aggressive. Antagonistic. In denial. I guess all the things I must once have been.
Addict2016: There was extreme anger at us from friends using lots of cocaine and alcohol.
BE: I revelled in the hypocrisy.
Addict2016: I always felt that their anger came from the denial of their own usage and possibly addictions. We knew we were scum but it was the same beast. Good drugs – bad drugs. I was sat down and given a good talking to by my fellow band-mates. It made me very angry – even though I knew it came from love. No free lunch for me!
BE: I’m not sure anyone who “only” did the other drugs even considered the concept of addiction. In fact, I’m not convinced that some people who spent a house on coke, me included, were ever addicted. When I stopped doing what? Three grams a day after ten years? I just stopped. Then again, it took the rest of our gang a year to realise I wasn’t buying or sharing anymore and to stop sticking it in my face! And before you go down the path I think you might, bear in mind that for example, I’d get home off tour, go to bed – and have someone break into my home, come up to my bed and wake me up with a CD case with two half gram lines chopped out, saying “Do these and be in the bar in 10. ‘X’ (legendary punk singer) and ‘Y’ (legendary ‘modfather’ musician) are here. We’re playing pool”. This was at 3a.m. and I’d probably just been to the U.S. and Australia for a couple of months. Same people later ‘sitting me down’.
Addict2016: I admit I loved the exclusivity our heroin and crack use gave us. We were different. We were intellectuals.
BE: That photo of us with the hats still makes me smile. Funny. The third party to our relationship saw me sell him some gear then nick a bit while he watched through my kitchen window in Stoke Newington. I don’t remember doing it but I must have because he pulled me up on it. A couple of years later I met his brother on the millennium bridge. He told me G had released a limited edition recording of one of the tunes we did together and I recorded. He’d always promised that studio time and royalties would be paid if that ever happened. Interesting take on life methinks. And yes, we were/are “intellectuals”. Our egos probably outshone everyone else’s simply because we knew we were clever – and doing completely stupid stuff. I loved our soirees in G’s locked door studio. Educated men in the high castle incarnate. Nobody mentions that drugs can be excellent fun.
Addict2016: That was an amazing place though. A building full of famous, infamous and hungry people creating music. From the outside and inside it was glamorous. It was a giddy throng of creativity and drug abuse. That ‘locked door’ was sanctuary. The crack and heroin the ultimate abuse and sanctuary.
BE: I lived in there too, don’t forget. To get to the toilet at weekends, I had to step over your dance partners, all four hundred of them. At the previous incarnation of that organisation in Kings Cross, to get to the toilet at weekends I often had to walk through full blown (coughs) S &M orgies.
Addict2016: You said at the beginning that you drink five nights a week. Is this a conscious decision? How important are the two nights off?
BE: Sometimes four, sometimes three. It depends on life/work etc. Not drinking seven days a week is definitely a conscious thing. Some nights it’s two glasses of wine. Some, usually a Friday, it’s two bottles. Not sure I’m keen to continue the “binge” element, which is definitely there, but I do have denial rooted in the “given where I’ve been I’m doing OK” statement. I do know it holds no ground (intellectual, right?) but it’s something I’m still working on. Same as cigarettes. Was twenty-thirty a day, now five-fifteen. Stats don’t lie, right?
Addict2016: I think that sort of intake is fairly standard for alcohol. We would look on it differently if it was heroin we were talking about. The health advice would be against the binge element but that is when it works and is most fun. I have promised my daughter that I am giving up tobacco on my birthday; this is now only a few days away. Tobacco is so difficult to give up. I have tried a few times and failed but feel that I have learned much about quitting in the last few months so think and hope it will be different this time but I don’t want to put any pressure on my abstinence. When I stopped using heroin, I just bought a big bag of temazepam and locked myself in that awful flat. G & A (angels) brought me provisions: tins of soup and ice-lollies. After two or three weeks I had an epiphany on a bright sunny Sunday morning listening to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album. I was free. I had never used alcohol much before in my life. It always made me sick. On quitting heroin I found I could drink and developed a huge thirst. I had merely swapped addictions.
BE: I stopped drinking around my eighteenth birthday. I was driving a band van around during college and the two don’t mix. Speed and hash was the thing. Lots of it. I used to buy speed still warm from a flat in Wigan. They made it in the bath. First pint after that was when I was about twenty-five when I lived in Hampton Court. The Albion. Tennants Extra! I remember it vividly. Apart from the messy physical withdrawal of heroin, everything else I’ve just stopped. I was a crap junkie. Could look at it and throw up. Really. Cigarettes are different. A client told me that if you started smoking young, I was about twelve, then to give up is to let go of one’s youth. There’s probably something in that. I’m pretty straight down the line these days, but cigarettes allow me to believe I’m still a nihilist. Still a rebel. Still different. Clearly utter cockwallop but somewhere in the back of my brain I retain that notion. Also, at this point too many of my rituals involve smoking: close a deal = smoke; difficult phone call = smoke; get off a motorcycle = smoke; between takes in studio = you get the idea…
Addict2016: Absolutely. Smoking will always be cool in the movies. The rituals of addiction can be the most difficult things to break.
BE: I never drank before a gig on tour. I could feel one sip of Heineken. Immediately after essentially running on the spot for ninety minutes, however, I’d neck a pint of Jack &Coke in about five minutes, then “start drinking”… and everything else… until I passed out on my bunk on the bus sometime the next morning. I did that for about five years.
Addict2016: Would you or have you ever contemplated an intervention on an addicted friend?
BE: I’m pretty sure I know what that means but I don’t know the etiquette. It always sounded like entrapment to me. That said, I have told people things they didn’t want to hear and their other friends weren’t telling them. Two occasions spring to mind immediately. Both alcohol related. One friend turned into a twisted bitch wanker around half way down her third glass of wine. I told her that was why her friends ignored her and moved away around that sip. She listened. Amazing. I was very, very straight talking. She’s never been like that again, as far as I know; though still goes past that sip regularly. She’s a lovely woman. The other time I was asked by a friend’s work colleagues to call our friend for a “chat” – my ‘turn’ apparently – chicken shit the lot of them! I told our friend the truth as perceived by the rest of the relatively sober bunch. Absolute denial was his response. Still is and would be today, however many years later. Everyone’s got it wrong. He’s good at his job. Drink doesn’t affect it. Who is anyone else to preach and there he has a point – see good drugs/bad drugs above. The thing is, if you work in rock n roll as a freelancer, it’s easy to convince yourself you didn’t get that next gig/tour/job with that band for any number of reasons (they went with a mate instead; they can’t afford me; they could only take x number of people on the visa; etc.) and get a gig with another bunch.
Addict2016: Would you call your friend a functioning addict or not addicted then? “Functioning” addiction is a conversation in itself! I functioned creating music while heavily using heroin. I ran a small school whilst heavily using alcohol. Both substances eventually overtook the functioning but it took nearly a decade both times… or I got away with it for nearly a decade both times.
BE: He’s got away with it, the odd “sack” with excuses aside, for about thirty years. I respect his belligerence. I also respect his control of functional malfunction. Me? I have never known when to stop. At anything. He very rarely gets truly messy but is definitely addicted. Any activity must end at a pub. A walk by the seaside cannot end with lunch in a port-side seafood restaurant if it doesn’t have an alcohol license, for example. If it looks like it might, that’s when the functional behaviour malfunctions (irritation, sulking, passive aggressive, aggressive) – whatever it takes to get to the draft tap of choice. Before it all got a bit serious, admitting addiction, do you have any regrets from back then? Things you wish you could change/have done differently? Things you wonder whether might have changed the course of your life for better or worse?
Addict2016: I have always said, pretentiously maybe, that I would not change a thing. I am a product of my experience and I wouldn’t have missed a moment of those days. I am in a good place now but have very deep regrets for the pain I have put people through with my drinking (see Forgiveness) but I am still the product of my experience and am moving forwards. Regret is such a big word. I think I’m with Edith but everyone praises the recovery of an addict and their partner is left with the same anger, hurt, resentment and guilt.
BE: I wonder if I still have the “admission” to get to. I may well still be in denial. I really don’t know. It’s great that you are at least THINKING about it – and the people you love. I agree about regret. Ms Piaf did make a great point. I’m with her, but I tried to soften the question with “wish”; try reading the mitigative part of my question. Any retrospective thoughts?
Addict2016: Drug use was an integral part of JJ/DC and its mission statement. I would not change that. The message was really about freedom, experience, truth and encouraging the confidence for self expression. It worked and there were surprisingly few casualties…except me. Most of us involved in DC would say it was a golden time which has enhanced and inspired our following lives. The key to the doors of perception? Once the door is unlocked you shouldn’t need the key anymore.
BE: Sounds like you’re the one who unlocked a revolving door! And for what it’s worth I always loved the JJ/DC spirit and energy. As a voyeur it was genuinely energizing and you had KL with you – without doubt the hottest individual on the scene! Force of nature that one.
Addict2016: She was definitely the inspiring spirit for me. What stories she can tell. A true inspiration. Regarding a revolving door – watch this space. I intend not to acquire a new substance. But will need something to fill the hole. I’m trying this blog and the rest of my life, which is pretty good at the moment, to fill it. Busy-ness.
BE:Busy is good. There’s a lot out there if you choose to look. Pick something.